A House of Commons committee in Canada is calling for the government to decriminalize the simple possession of all drugs in an effort to address addiction as a public health issue.
In a report released this week, the Standing Committee on Health described what its members learned on a tour across the country to examine the impacts of rising rates of methamphetamine addiction. That experience helped inform the committee’s multiple recommendations concerning decriminalizing drug possession.
The panel recommended that the government “work with provinces, territories, municipalities and Indigenous communities and law enforcement agencies to decriminalize the simple possession of small quantities of illicit substances.”
Further, it advised the government to “undertake an evaluation of Portugal’s approach to the decriminalization of simple possession of illicit substances and examine how it could be positively applied to Canada.”
Conservative members of the committee disagreed with several recommendations, the report stated, including the expansion of safe injection sites where people can use illicit substances in a medically supervised environment. However, the opposition party did not outright oppose decriminalization; instead, its members argued that such a policy must have “the fulsome measures taken in countries like Portugal.”
Witnesses told the panel that those measures include “a scaling up of treatment programs and the creation of diversions programs for offenders who commit crimes related to their substance use disorders,” the document notes.
The report also details how committee members encountered a pervasive negative attitude toward people with addiction, including from health professionals. Removing criminal penalties associated with drug use would be one step toward destigmatizing the health conditions, they argued.
Members of the country’s ruling Liberal Party passed a non-binding resolution in support of decriminalization in April. But while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned on marijuana legalization, he shut the idea of broader drug decriminalization down, stating that “on that particular issue, as I’ve said, it’s not part of our plans.”
Nevertheless, some lawmakers from his party have expressed interest in reviving efforts to pursue decriminalization through legislation. Liberal MP Nate Erskine-Smith said on Thursday that he plans to file a decriminalization bill “at first opportunity.”
We went straight to orders of the day this morning, so couldn’t introduce the decrim bill. But will do so at first opportunity.
— Nate Erskine-Smith (@beynate) June 13, 2019
“Where the evidence is so clear, and the crisis is so severe, it’s up to us to be leaders and be educators,” he wrote. “Credit to our parliamentary health committee for its work. It’s time to follow the evidence and save lives.”
Meanwhile, 20 U.S. prosecutors from major cities are embarked on a trip to Portugal last month to see the impact of the country’s decriminalization policy firsthand.